Do They Know It’s Christmas?

"Do They Know it's Christmas?" Band Aid - 1984. File used under Fair use Laws.

I love “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Seeing Boy George, George Michael, Sting, Phil Collins, and so many other early 80s musicians belt out, in unison, “feed the world! Let them know it’s Christmas time!” warms me in a way I just can’t describe. Then there’s the infamous line Bono belts out…”well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you!” How can you not love “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Sure – the song is full of cheese, but I happen to love cheese.

Once more – “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” inspired so many other charity supergroups – especially USA for Africa (We are the world). If you’ve been reading my articles for 9 years, a) thank you! and b) you’ll know that I wrote an article called “How (not) to form a charity supergroup” which I talk about “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” “We are the World,” and a few other charity supergroup songs  However, I’ve never done a proper cover vs original on “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” So…it’s time to remedy this oversight!

Original Version – Band Aid (1984)

Let’s get something straight right up front. As much as I love this song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It might be one of the worst songs ever written. It’s kitschy, it’s eurocentric, and pretty much only works because of the amount of recording artists involved. Band Aid orchestrator, Sir Bob Geldof, agrees! Geldof states:

‘I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. One is Do They Know It’s Christmas? and the other one is We Are The World. 
‘Any day soon, I will go to the supermarket, head to the meat counter and it will be playing. Every ****ing Christmas

Still – despite the song’s many faults – Geldof and company had the best motives: raise money to relieve the mid 80s famine in Ethiopia. The song raised over 24 million dollars, while “We are the World” brought in 10.8 million. Of course, Live Aid, the sequel to both Band Aid and USA for Africa raised 127 million (and what about that amazing performance by Queen, am I right?). 

So, despite being one of the worst songs ever recorded, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” might also be one of the most important songs ever recorded.

Richard Cheese Version (2006)

If you’re unfamiliar with the stylings of Richard Cheese – think cover songs done in the style of a Las Vegas lounge lizard. Cheese’s covers are often times intentionally clueless of the meaning of the lyrics, and always satirical.

Knowing this about Richard Cheese – a cover of “Do They Know it’s Christmas” will, of course, be a far cry from the original. The 1:27 minute Cheese version sticks it’s tongue out at the kitchiness of the original, and even mock’s Bono’s infamous line – as Cheese screams “well tonight thank God, instead of vu!” During the ending chorus, Cheese can’t quite make the high notes…and even comments “man that’s high!”

There’s not much else to say about the Richard Cheese version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” – but considering the cheesiness of the original, I think Richard Cheese captures the essence of the song beautifully. I’m sure Sir Bob Geldof would approve.

Glee Cast Version (2011)

I’ll admit that I’ve never watched a full episode of Glee, and I probably never will.  Still – when I saw the cast of Glee did a cover of “Do They Know it’s Christmas,” I knew I had to include it in this article.

Let me be blunt….the Glee version has officially dethroned the original version of “Do They Know it’s Christmas….as worst song ever recorded. Seriously – holy fracking crap, that’s an abomination of a song! I’ll admit – the girl who does Boy George’s part on the first half of the song does a pretty decent job. The guy that does Bono’s harmony part also does a decent job. But then – the girl who does Boy George’s first part also tries to belt out Bono’s infamous solo line, and fails miserably! To top it off a new girl sings Boy George’s ending part – and she’s off key!

Yeah, Glee gets the whole ensemble portion of the song right – they combine a bunch of individual talents to form this song. And yes, they certainly get the cheese of the song down (much more than Richard Cheese’s version). But wow…the world could have done without this version of “Do They Know it’s Christmas.” I just hope they donated money from that episode to charity.

Barenaked Ladies Version (2014)

For whatever reason – The Barenaked Ladies decided to make a version of “Do they Know it’s Christmas” for their antic filled Christmas album. Maybe because the song is so hated, yet so loved. Maybe because – well – this is BNL we’re talking about. Who knows how their minds work!

Lead vocalists Steven Page and Ed Robertson swapped lyrics back and forth, thus seemingly capturing the ensemble feel of the original. However, we don’t seem to hear much from the rest of the band. These are four (sometimes five) gents that have been touring for decades together. These are guys who, according to their documentary, just dance around naked on their tour bus until their manager tells them to go to bed! This proves how close the band is (or at least was at one point). Add the fact that “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” is a song about coming together – a song that celebrates the contributions of the many. It just seems wrong to not hear Tyler Stewart and Jim Creegan belting out a line or two.

I will say – I appreciate that BNL samples the original song for the line “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you!” Bono does that line so much better than anyone ever could, and ever will.

Do They Know it’s Halloween? – NAHPI (2005)

So…Do They Know it’s Halloween is not a cover of “Do They Know it’s Christmas.” However, DTKIH lampoons the original. Full of several independent artists, as well as a few bigger names such as Beck, The Arcade Fire, Feist, and even Elvira, mistress of the dark(!), “Do They Know it’s Halloween” takes a tongue in cheek approach –  particular of the western centric nature of the original songs (they’re lampooning “We Are the World” as well).

“Do They Know it’s Halloween” might be the best charity supergroup song ever written. DTKIH certainly takes the prize for most entertaining at the very least. Highlights include David Cross getting freaked out by some kittens, Peaches playing a Ghost, and of course, Karen O’s swooning vocals! Wow. Oh – and of course, this song was done as a fundraiser as well. All proceeds for this song went to UNICEF.

Which Version Of “Do They Know it’s Christmas wins?

We kind of have to admit that all of these versions have their fault. There were a few versions I didn’t even mention because they were so bad. The Band Aid 20, and Band Aid 30 versions aren’t even listenable. Heck, Bono doesn’t even sing his line the same way! Jerk! (Just kidding Bono, I love you).

There is one version that I didn’t mention which put a huge smile on my face. That is the version done by several of the original Band Aid members (and a few new members) in 1985, to close out the Wembley Stadium portion of Live Aid. Seriously – watch it! It’s a work of art.

My favorite parts: David Bowie giving his own spin to the beginning, Sir Bob Geldof telling Bono to “shout” his line, and Freddie Mercury literally hanging over Bono’s shoulder – singing into the mic. Priceless! Also – someone (either Bono or Geldof) kept changing “Christmas time” to “Spring time.”

Just don’t watch the live version of “We are the World” that happened a few minutes later. That was insanely bad. And who the heck kept barking! Ok, watch it – just to hear the barking.

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